Monday, December 14, 2009

Commercial Branding - Then & Now

In previous blogs, I've integrated ads from enduring brands you may recognize, including Kodak, Coca-Cola, Arbuckle's coffee, and I.W. Harper Bourbon. These companies all had foundations tracing back to the 19th century, yet still exist in some form. Today's blog is going to focus on a few familiar brands that have lasted through the years, how they got their start, and their ever-evolving story in contemporary America.

Food offers probably the most recognizable brands in our lives, whether we realize it or not. It may simply be a jingle stuck in our head or a canister sitting on our shelves, we know it when we see (or hear) it! It's often incredible to think how long these simple staples in our lives have been around. Taking a walk down the cereal aisle can easily be a walk through history! Grape-Nuts, for example, came out of the home of breakfast cereals: Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1897. C.W. Post (ironically, a patient of Dr. Kellogg's, but a later competitor) was inspired to develop his first breakfast cereal after visiting Dr. Kellogg. Though not as popular as it used to be, and it has traded hands through the years, it still retains it's advertising campaign as a health food, full of nutrients, as per this 1906 ad.

Of course, back then (in the alleged "good ol' days"), not everything was pre-made & pre-packaged. These conveniences were still in their infancy! People still baked, cooked, and grew their own food (or at least some people did). Fortunately, this tradition has not died out. Hence, neither has some items that facilitate these activities. The 1907 Royal Baking Powder ad above features not only what made them famous (not the lighthouse! Their formula, silly!), but also recognition of the recent Pure Food & Drug Law that regulated manufactured food & medicine in the US. Though competition was great for this company, which traced back to 1873 (a little further if you count the pre-investor years), Royal Baking Powder survived because they followed a unique formula in a European tradition - one that excluded aluminum (purportedly linked to diseases, such as Alzheimer's). Today, Kraft Foods owns the product & the brand.

Self-sufficiency was perhaps more prominent at the turn of the century than today, but it nevertheless endures, at least to some extent. Whether a professional farmer or a hobbyist gardner, the seeds come from somewhere; and "somewhere" may include the store or a mail order catalog. Perhaps one of the better-known mail-order seed companies was founded originally as W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in 1878 Philadelphia, PA, as it is called in this 1908 ad. Later, it changed to the contemporary name of "Burpee's" (there are also ads under this name in the KY-NDNP database). The company experienced many other changes after David Burpee, founder W. Atlee's son, took over after his father's death in 1915. He focused more on flowers. Over the years, the company changed hands many times, but the family still generally stayed involved - until 1993. Jonathan Burpee, W. Atlee's grandson, was the last family member to work for the company, as he was fired by owner George Ball. Nevertheless, the recognizable name remains!

Along the "do-it-yourself" trend, sewing has always been a basic skill. Although, in some places & cases today, it seems restricted to Home Economics class, whereas it was nearly essential to some social classes (though mainly marketed to women) in the Victorian era. However, somebody had to invent those convenient & lightweight patterns. Occasionally, they might be made from (or come on) seed or potato sacks, but these were heavy duty, and only available for one general size. According to legend, one night in 1863, after creating a pattern and sewing an outfit for her son, Ellen Butterick went to her husband, Massachusetts tailor Ebenezer Butterick, and commented on how much easier it would be if she had multiple sizes for a pattern. Inspired, he revolutionized clothes-making for housewives everywhere with graded sizes in a single pattern! Even moreso, he realized stiff cardboard made for difficult shipping. Hence, the familiar tissue paper patterns were born! Butterick patterns specialized in mens & boys clothing, expanding to womens in 1866. The name and method became synonomous with clothing patterns then, as per this 1903 ad, & still is today!

As you probably noticed, Butterick's ad also advertises a "Home and Fashion Magazine." This was one method of advertising patterns, as well as providing them. In fact, McCall's Magazine - considered of the "7 sisters" (the main women's magazines of the time) - began as a vehicle strictly for patterns in 1873 under the name The Queen, and continued, under various names, for many years filling about 20% of its pages with patterns. You can see one of its alternate names, and its "claim to fame" in the 1909 ad above. Scottish immigrant James McCall began the brand in 1870, the magazine in 1873, and left it to his widow upon his 1884 death. The editor she hired brought in articles on housekeeping. It wasn't until a later editor came on board in 1893, that the magazine expanded topics even further, and took on the name McCall's (though initially a lengthier title, it was ultimately abbreviated to the familiar "brand" sometime after 1897). Though it changed many editorial & ownerhsip hands, in 2000, celebrity & talk show host Rosie O'Donnell bought the magazine. She changed the title to Rosie, only to end the publication of this long-running publication in 2005.

Okay, so, technically, I ended with a brand that no longer exists. Seriously, though, tell me any of you have NOT heard of McCall's? Okay then... This is, by the way, no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list. I have a few other examples of enduring brands that I've run across in our database, but, for the sake of length, maybe there'll be a Part II!

What brands do you know of that have a foundation "way back when, in the good ol' days?" Wanna know what the ads looked like? How the brands have changed? How they started? Let me know! Help me build a Part II of "Commerical Branding - Then & Now!"

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